You know that old commercial "When so-and-so talks, people listen?" I can now say that when I talk, people puke. Let me explain...
I spoke to a group of 4th graders last week. They are having a writing camp of sorts at their school, focusing on taking an idea and turning it into a story. And their teachers are trying to get them to accept that revision is a part of the writing process, even for multi-published authors. I had intended to borrow from a speech my friend Le gives to very young writers (with her permission, of course). In order to get their undivided attention -- especially that of the squirmy little boys -- she opens by comparing a first draft to "vomiting" words onto the page. The she compares the revision process to cleaning up that vomit. However, before I launched into that scenario, a little girl threw up on one of the computers in the library where I was giving my talk. At that point, I decided against using the vomit analogy.
I'm happy to report that things got better from that point forward. They were a great group of kids. And smart! They asked intelligent questions. One of those questions was the ever-popular "How can I get published?" I told them exactly what I tell the adult students in the writing class I teach, and now I'm going to tell you. Get out your pen and paper. Here are the...
Six Secret Steps to Publication:
1. WRITE. Write as much as you can as often as you can. The old cliche is true: Practice makes perfect. If you think you don't have time, you're only fooling yourself. Carve time from your day. Get up a half hour earlier in the morning or stay up a half hour later at night. Utilize wasted time spent in doctors' office waiting rooms, sitting in the car waiting on your kids at school, or on the bleachers at hockey practice. Give up a television program and write instead. Make a deal with yourself: promise to show up at the computer or notepad every day or every other day or once a week for a specified amount of time as long as you don't have to write well. You can clean up that vomit later.
2. READ & STUDY . Read, read, and read some more. Study the work of published writers whom you admire. Take writing classes. Join writer's organizations to hear speakers, network, and meet other writers.
3. FINISH WHAT YOU WRITE. Ignore your fear of failure and/or fear of success and just keep writing until you reach the end. Find someone -- another writer or a reader you trust to be honest but encouraging -- and let them read and critique your work. Take suggestions that work for you and throw out those that don't. Give yourself a reasonable deadline for a project. Polish it to a point where you believe it is the best you can make it without an agent or editor's help, then declare it finished. Move on.
4. SUBMIT YOUR WORK You won't ever get published if you hide your work in a drawer. Again, ignore your fear of failure or fear of success and enter your writing in reputable contests (those judged by published writers and editors and/or agents)in order to get feedback. Consider the feedback, but also keep in mind that it is just the opinion of one person. Don't let a less than glowing review crush you. Take the advice that helps you and use it. Forget the rest. Then, when you feel the story is ready, submit it to agents.
5. BELIEVE IN YOURSELF & PERSEVERE. Learn to distinguish between good and bad rejection letters. Bad ones give you no feedback you can use to make your work stronger and no encouragement. Good ones do. Celebrate and learn from the good ones. Throw darts at the bad ones. Develop a thick skin and keep plenty of chocolate on hand. A friend who will let you have an occasional cry on his/her shoulder doesn't hurt, either.
6. STAY TRUE TO YOUR VOICE, BUT BE WILLING TO REVISE. Those 4th grade teachers are correct: revising is part of every writer's process. When that day arrives that an agent or editor wants to buy your story but asks you to do some more work on it, don't balk...celebrate! That's your goal, isn't it? To make the story the best that it can possibly be.
And on another topic...I've changed the name and look of my blog, did you notice? I think the quote about "ink in my veins" and "blood on the typewriter keys" pretty much sums me up! I'll be making more small changes in the days and weeks ahead. I hope to put up a new photograph at the top every month or so. I took the one of the bridge at a park in Nashville in November. I loved the colorful sweep of grass up to that rusty old bridge.
What I've been reading: I just finished THE READER by Bernhard Schlink. It was my book groups February selection. It should generate lively discussion at our meeting next week. I had no sympathy at all for the female character in the story (Kate Winslet won an Oscar for Best Actress in this part last night). I already know that at least one member of my group doesn't agree with my assessment of "Hanna." A well-written book containing a lot of controversial issues. If you want action-packed reading, though, this isn't for you.
Next on my reading list: JELLICOE ROAD by Melina Marchetta. My editor sent me this YA novel (along with a few others). I've been wanting to read this story and can't wait to dive into it.
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Sunday, February 08, 2009
“It’s a beautiful day at XYZ Cosmetics. This is Karen. How may I help you?”
“I’d like to cancel my quarterly shipment.”
“Oh…I’m sorry to hear that. Could I ask why you don’t want to continue using the products?”
“I’m not satisfied with the results I’m seeing.”
“I’m sorry. What results were you hoping for? Maybe I can recommend some different products that will better suit your specific needs.”
“Well, the infomercial promised the cleanser and cream would diminish my fine lines, wrinkles and enlarged pores by 49% and sun spots by 60%. With those sorts of claims, I expected to look like Jennifer Aniston but instead I still look like Jennifer Archer.”
Long pause… “The advertisement said that a certain number of users have reported those results, not everyone. You might benefit from a more intense regimen. I recommend you add our weekly facial masque made from an extract of caterpillar larvae blended with blueberry and apricot acids. I can send you a trial shipment of one month’s supply, and if you like it, the shipments will continue every quarter afterward for the low price of 64.99 a—”
“Will it make me look like Jennifer Aniston?”
“Um . . .” Another long pause.
“That’s what I thought. I think I’ll pass. I can go to the drugstore every quarter and continue to look like Jennifer Archer for $6.99 instead of $64.99.”
“Hey, it’s not that bad.” (Said defensively.)
“I didn’t mean . . . I’m sorry.”
“So you’ve said.”
“I’ve cancelled your order, Ma’am. Have a beautiful day.”
The moral of this story? Hmmm. . . . not sure. Maybe that the world already has a Jennifer Aniston, a Halle Berry, a Brad Pitt, a you-name-it, but the world only has one you? Quit trying to be someone else and be yourself? Embrace your identity? You don’t have to spend a fortune making the most of what you’ve got? Or maybe the moral is just that we should always take the opportunity to mess with folks who work for companies that make outrageous claims for an outrageous price. It’s fun, and it probably livens up their monotonous day.
Speaking of identity, I promised to blog about the young adult novel THE ADORATION OF JENNA FOX by Mary E. Pearson. The story raised many questions in my mind. How far would I go to save someone I love? Before reading the book, I would have answered that question, “I would do whatever it takes.” Now the answer is no longer so clear cut for me. I hope I would consider first whether my actions were in the loved one’s best interests, or just for my own selfish reasons – because I couldn’t bear the loss. The story also raised the question of what makes up a person’s identity. A small part of the brain that contains personality? Our collected experiences? Both of those and more? THE ADORATION OF JENNA FOX is a thought-provoking, well-written novel with compelling characters – a blend of science fiction, mystery, and coming of age love story all rolled into one. I enjoyed the read and I recommend it for teens and adults. I must admit to being a bit freaked out by the fact that some of the elements are eerily similar to elements in a story I’ve been working on. Just more proof to my theory that ideas float around out there in the universe and more than one writer often tap into the same one. The good news is that the same core idea in the minds of two writers usually emerges on the page in two very different ways. Though similarities may exist, we each put our own stamp of identity on the story.
* * * *
If identity is made up of collected experiences, I’ve been adding a lot of material to shape mine. An acquaintance recently gave me a wonderful compliment by claiming that I am both interested and interesting. I believe those two elements are the key to staying mentally young. Which is why I recently challenged myself to Do Something New each month. Though I haven’t blogged in a while, I haven’t slacked off on that challenge. Here’s some of what I’ve been doing:
1) I had a food adventure. Jaime, a student from the creativity class I’m teaching, invited my husband and me to his house to sample authentic Peruvian foods. Jaime grew up in Peru and his girlfriend still lives in Lima. She was in town for the month of January and helped him prepare the meal. We had thinly sliced octopus with the most delicious olive sauce, yucca, cerviche, and much more. The food was wonderful but I also enjoyed the Pisco Sours, a yummy but potent drink!
2) I have been collaborating with my oldest son on a writing project. I get two points for that, as I have never collaborated on a book with anyone before, and I have never worked professionally with my son before. I have enjoyed doing both!
3) The project my son and I are writing is a biography – the personal history of a 94 year old man who has led a remarkable life. This is my first attempt at writing a biography. Non-fiction is typically not my forte, but I am loving this!
4) I have joined Facebook and am trying to learn the ins and outs of it. So far, so good.
That’s it until next time. I would love to hear about the new things you’ve tried recently, what you’ve been reading, and your thoughts on what makes up identity. Post away!
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